The rapid growth in global trade in commodities such as rubber, timber, cocoa, and palm oil has contributed to significant reductions in hunger and poverty over the past three to four decades. Unfortunately, it has also led to poorly planned expansion of large-scale monocultures, biodiversity losses, greenhouse gas emissions and unfair arrangements for local communities.

The need to do things differently was recognized by NGOs in the Global North and South in the early 1990s. In those days, few companies trading commodities accepted their responsibility and accountability for the impact of their business on the ground. Governments struggled to capture regulatory policies that would deliver impact on the ground without unduly restricting trade.

Sustainability certification for a variety of commodities emerged as one of the key tools for industry self-regulation, some offering stricter oversight than others. The vast human and financial resources poured into these schemes for over a decade contributed to lively discussions about the definition of sustainability and methods to prove sustainability claims in the market place. Yet, many challenges remained.

Certification schemes turned out to be better suited for checking existing business practices than new developments. Typically, certification often failed to stop ongoing deforestation whilst many affected stakeholders saw well-documented complaints and grievances run aground in systems, more preoccupied with internal procedures rather than addressing the actual non-compliance.

A landmark change came in 2013, when the first "No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation" (NDPE) policy was first adopted by a global palm oil trader. This policy changed the game entirely, because it applied to all suppliers to the trader company, not merely its own plantation land bank. And, the policy catered for a simple, yet essential sanction in the event suppliers were unwilling to company: suspension of trade. NDPE policies have since become mainstream throughout several commodity supply chains, notably palm oil.

Meanwhile, governments had finally become more willing to regulate the expansion boom that their own policies had unleashed. Planting oil palm on peat become prohibited in Indonesia; Sarawak finally prohibited open burning on peat. In Papua New Guinea, a major investigation was undertaken into the questionable issuance of numerous business leases that would enable a corporate land grab of unprecedented proportions.

As a consequence of NGO campaigning, market interventions and law enforcement, deforestation for oil palm saw a dramatic decline since 2012. Although too much forest was lost, the reduced pressure on land use changes offers some breathing space for stakeholders to help consolidate land use, in ways that are more responsible, better thought-through and more equitable. Indonesia enabled local communities to apply for social forestry rights throughout the country; Malaysia invested in improved licensing of smallholders and palm oil dealers.

Consumer country governments have also become more proactive. The EU Deforestation Regulation requires all businesses in seven commodity supply chains to assure that their purchase did not contribute to deforestation after 2020. Similar policies are under consideration in North America.

Earthqualizer and its founders have been deeply involved in this process of change over the past three decades. There is still some way to go, not least bearing in mind that market demand for other commodities can quickly unleash a new wave of deforestation and land acquisition.

Gathering and analysis of Big Data in land use change, field verification and consultations, engagement of corporate actors and government agencies remain our daily work.

Deforestation for oil palm in Kalimantan.

Social, economic and environmental justice

We envision a future in which companies, communities and governments collaborate to better integrate their activities in the landscapes on which they depend. This requires us to work with the diversity that the landscape has to offer, less so to replace that landscape with entirely different features. Data, insights, creativity and partnerships will all be required to protect, restore and make productive previously damaged ecosystems, agricultural lands and human relationships.

Our vision for the future

Who we work with

Public (communities, government, donors, NGOs)

Our goal is to nurture livelihoods that rely on and thrive in diverse landscapes. To achieve this natural synergy, we support public sector organizations with in-depth analysis in the following areas: 

  • Support for social forestry schemes

  • Smallholder support (legalization, market access)

  • Recovery (compensation and remediation) projects

  • Improving government policies and land use planning

  • Research into irresponsible corporate practices

Corporate (brands, traders, growers, and bankers)

Earthqualizer is taking a root-and-branch approach to commodity supply chains. This requires engagement of corporates, where Earthqualizer is active in the following areas:

  • Development and review of sustainability policies

  • Implementing sustainable procurement policies and practices

  • Monitoring of supply chains, including product traceability

  • Nature-Risk Assessment, Deforestation Free Assessment and Due Diligence.

  • Supplier engagement

The Earthqualizer DREAM

Earthqualizer has a DREAM – a new vision for commodity production, in which business includes and empowers local people to participate in the sustainable management of natural resources, and the government is can be the catalyst for change to:

  • Deliver equitable results based on socio-economic justice

  • Restore degraded areas

  • Encourage co-management of natural resources with other stakeholders

  • Achieve wider inclusion and diversity 

  • Mitigate the negative impacts of business operations